The Man Who Floated A Rolling Canvas Across Borders


Singapore-based artist Rajesh Kumar brings art, people and philosophy together in his biggest work, the painted carriages of the Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express, where he uses Koi as a symbol of energy and life force.

By Preeti Verma Lal 

Art in motion moves emotions and viewers in a blurring stir of a moment. Something similar happens when you look at this rolling canvas. Koi (carp) red and yellow, cruising in the blue sky. The fish in gay abandon flitting by the fluffy clouds. The fish travel along, from Singapore to Bangkok, on carriages. The fish are art in motion, a rolling canvas on Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express, Asia’s iconic luxury train. To give luxury travel an arty twist, Belmond commissioned Singapore-based emerging artist Rajesh Kumar to paint the exterior of the train’s two iconic carriages with the ‘Koi Pond’, a one of its kind rolling canvas. The Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express chugs from Singapore, meandering through Kuala Lumpur, into Bangkok. The koi on the carriages symbolise a power, energy and life force.

In Japanese, ‘koi’ translates into ‘carp’. The significance lies in koi being an integral part of Asian culture. Why the koi? “Kois are the symbol of wealth, good fortune and elegance, and inspire a feeling of Zen. What draws me to the koi is that they all have unique markings, but as a collective, they move together with such grace,” says Kumar, who is a Fine Art Graduate from Goldsmiths University, London. He previously worked at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Singapore – renowned for representing artists such as Hiroshi Senju, Sebastiaõ Salgado and Golnaz Fathi. At the Gallery, Kumar gained experience as an art handler.


The Koi pond and blues fascinate this artist.


Kumar’s works adorn the walls of several commercial establishments in Singapore including Blu Jaz, Immigrants and Barkode. He had designed a backdrop for the launch of the Audi A3 Sportsback which was displayed at the 2013 Audi Fashion Festival. His works deal with the application of Freudian theories on psycho analysis and the questioning of the self. He confesses his love for collage concepts on portraiture, and his huge respect and regard for the old masters of oil painting and the embedding of poetry in a vision and a story. He has painted faces; it is only recently that he has started painting kois with oil, but kois have begun to grow on him. “Koi Pond painting is about looking at something on the surface that seems impossible, and making it possible, like the positioning of the Koi in the sky,” he believes. Painting such a huge canvas came with its own challenges. The two-month process was arduous. The weather was playing tricks — one day scorching sun, another day – a mighty downpour.

Using a combination of paints (automotive enamel and Molotov aerosols finished with High grade 2k top coat), Kumar had to prepare the carriage surface metal, as one were to do with a brand new car going for a paint job. Explaining the process, Kumar says, “I started with enamel-based paint and worked on the top layers with aerosol. The skill is in understanding the paints and being patient with their drying processes. I also had to paint everything based on a blue tinted vision due to the reflection of the tarpaulins on the painted surface of the train”. The Koi Pond depicts the joy of travel, movement and the coming together of friends and family – the result is a visual surprise as the train weaves through Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

The koi give expression to Kumar’s love for the blues. He says he is in love with blues and trusts his greens. “To be specific, Lagoon blue and Riviera middle,” he adds. His various occupational experiences, landscaping, scenic painting and construction-related jobs also helped him in the Belmond project, which is the largest canvas he has ever painted. “The Koi pond fascinates me. Throughout this project, I felt like a koi fish in a pond. The colours and vibrancy of the fish and the water display emotions in many and felt it would beautifully represent Eastern & Oriental Express in aspects of luxurious travels,” he adds.